On Motherhood, Physics and Relativity

Today, while doing chores, I listened to a book on tape from the library called, “How the Universe got its Spots.” (This is a link to the Amazon book, because I couldn’t link to the book on tape for some reason.)

The gifted young cosmologist Janna Levin sets out to determine the size of the universe, along the way providing an intimate look at the day-to-day life of a globe-trotting physicist. Nimbly synthesizing geometry, topology, chaos and string theories, Levin shows how the pattern of hot and cold spots left over from the big bang may one day reveal the size and shape of the cosmos. She does so with such originality, lucidity, and even poetry, that How the Universe Got Its Spots becomes a thrilling and deeply personal communication between a scientist and the lay reader. ~ From the Preview.

The only problem that I can see at this point, is that when listening to a book on tape, I cannot underline passages, or highlight them to share the sumptuousness of them with you later. I am at a loss, wishing I could remember that exact turn of phrase that felt like poetry to me. Sigh.

I am no scientist. I am enough of a fan of all things scientific, or mathematical that I want “Nerd Girl” t-shirts and “Talk Nerdy to Me” nighties. However, I cannot actually follow the discussions of true scholars, until today. I could almost understand what she was talking about, and it made me feel Smart – Dang it! What I loved most was how the elegance of equations was alluded to again and again, the mystery of the cosmos, the breathtaking beauty of numbers. Relativity has never been explained in such a way that I could feel enlightened before.

And, because I am a mom, I found myself relating everything to the idea of mothering. Each child we are gifted with is an enormously vast and magical universe. We will never fully understand them, no matter how much we study them. We might figure certain parts of their personality out – – just as they abandon that part of themselves and grow up into another whole galaxy of characteristics. We are always behind.

It just reminds me to stay mystified by their genius, and in awe of the way they put words together. I have written about the cosmos and rearing children before, in an article called, “Nearing the Outer Reaches of any Semblance of the Known World.” It was right when scientists were relegated to the 12th page of the newspaper in a tiny article as their space probe neared the outer reaches of our galaxy – a trip that had taken 35 years. I couldn’t imagine their excitement, and yet, the world was more interested in what celebrities were arguing over that day.

Early in How the Universe got its Spots, the author talks about the loneliness of science: some of the mathematicians and scientists that went mad along the way; either from depression, when their theories were laughed away by their peers, or because they were so very alone with their knowledge. When on the cutting edge of discovery, unless there is someone right there with you as a research partner, it must be very difficult to convey to most other people the enormity of what you are finding.

And this, too, seemed familiar to the parenting continuum. Yes, we have other parents to relate to in some ways, but no one is just like our kid, or what they are discovering. There are plenty of books in the marketplace, but none that will completely key into exactly what we are going through with our particular child. There are joys that no one else knows, struggles that are just our own, daily battles, and daily rejoicings that are not easy to share.

There is still this – that each of our children is a Universe unto his or her self. We each are. We each have giant wishes and dreams and disappointments. We each carry this weight around with us of un-communicated joys and un-shared struggles. It is up to us to find ways to get to know in our children the bright spots, luminaries, black holes, burning flashes of light, and the glorious nebula’s – where stars are born.

Without oversimplifying, I think it is important to remember that we will find what we are looking for in our children. If we are frustrated with them, we will find frustrations. If we determine to see and find the breathtaking, we may be surprised to find in them depths of wisdom and giant expanses. We might be floored to see a sky flooded with stars where we thought there was only haze.

Leave a Reply